- Site Feedback
- IDEA Sites
- Digital Freedoms
- International Justice
- 2012 Presidential Debates Guide
- Asia Youth Forum
- Big Apple Cogers
- Debate Changing Europe
- Debate in the Neighborhood
- Debating and Producing Media
- Debating the Future of Youth in Africa and Europe
- Dialogue without borders
- Digital Debating Blog
- Free Speech Debate
- Global Youth Forum
- Global Debate and Public Policy Challenge
- International Public Policy Forum
- Online Mentoring
- Securing Liberty Series
- Youth and Sports Mega-Events
- League of Young Voters
This House believes that capital punishment should be abolished in Africa
This House believes that capital punishment should be abolished in Africa
Capital punishment is always controversial: for that reason, it is commonly used as a training debate. However, on the international level, its use in Africa is not a matter of debate as much as it is in the USA (the last Western highly developed democracy to maintain capital punishment), or Asian nations such as China, the country that performs more executions than the rest of the world put together. In general, the same fundamental arguments about penology (the social science of punishment) and criminology (the study of crime) apply worldwide - for that reason, this debate aims to avoid regurgitating the stock arguments and focus on the particular context of capital punishment in Africa. In 2012, executions were carried out in Sudan (including on opposition activists), South Sudan, Somalia, Botswana and The Gambia. Death sentences were also imposed in a number of other countries, including Egypt, DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
A particular example of a country that abolished capital punishment in Africa is South Africa. While there was a moratorium instituted in 1990, South Africa is the only country in Africa where capital punishment was abolished following the decision of a court (State v Makwanyane in 1995). The Makwanyane decision came in the years following the nation’s transition to democracy after the collapse of white minority rule, an era during which there were a number of executions for politically motivated offences, including that of anti-apartheid activists Frederick John Harris and Vuyisile Mini. This position is despite South Africa having relatively high levels of violent crime, and significant levels of public support.
Most recently Benin abolished capital punishment in 2012, as did Burundi in 2009. However, The Gambia has moved towards a different direction. In 2012, The Gambia carried out nine executions; it’s first since 1985, following a “promise” to execute just under fifty convicts made by the president, Yahya Jammeh.
 Amnesty International, “Death sentences and executions 2012”, Amnesty.org, 2013 http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT50/001/2013/en/bbfea0d6-39b2-4e5f-a1ad-885a8eb5c607/act500012013en.pdf . At time of writing the 2012 report is the most recent.
 The last execution in South Africa was that of Solomon Ngobeni, in 1989. To clarify, no-one has been executed in South Africa since its transition to democratic governance, which was completed in 1994 following Nelson Mandela winning the first democratic, panracial, elections.
 Harris was the only white person executed for an Apartheid related matter.
 Hands off Cain, “Benin: Accession to the second optional protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty”, Hands off Cain.info, 2012, http://www.handsoffcain.info/news/index.php?iddocumento=16307938
 Amnesty International, “Burundi abolishes the death penalty but bans homosexuality”, Amnesty.org, 2009, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/burundi-abolishes-death-penalty-bans-homosexuality-20090427
|Points For||Points Against|
|Encourages a culture of respect for human rights||“Benefits” of capital punishment apply universally|
|Justice co-operation||African values|
|Diplomatic relations||Capital punishment is a comparatively small issue|
|Particular need in Africa|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Encourages a culture of respect for human rights
Capital punishment is, in general seen as a significant human rights violation by the international community - not only most liberal democracies, but much of international civil society.
Abolition will help lead to the development of a culture of human rights and the rule of law by acting as a benchmark of progress, and a symbol of a commitment to these principles. It is notable that Guinea Bissau is the only abolitionist nation in the bottom ten countries in Africa for the rule of law – according to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance’s safety and rule of law category, compared to six abolitionist countries in the top ten.
If anything, abolition could be a seen as a distraction of progress. Even in retentionist criminal justice systems, only a small number of those who go through the criminal justice system are sentenced to death or executed. Behind the smokescreen of reform, things can be hidden. While Russia abolished capital punishment shortly after the end of the Soviet Union, politically motivated prosecutions continue, such as those of the members of Pussy Riot.
As for the rankings, correlation is not causation.Improve this
Crime does not stop at national borders. Therefore efforts to fight crime cannot, either. A country that abolishes capital punishment will be in a much better position to cooperate on justice issues internationally.
Many states, particularly ones in the Global North, have policies of not extraditing people to jeopardy of capital punishment. Not only could more people be extradited, foreign states may be more willing to provide broader based assistance and co-operation if they see that a state has made steps forward in criminal justice policy.
Some states have a policy of not extraditing to states where there is a risk of capital punishment: a particular clause on this is included in the US-Mexico extradition treaty, and it is the position of the European Court of Human Rights.
States in the Global North already deal with other states with capital punishment in the Global North. Broader based changes to criminal justice system would be needed - if it is desirable for states to make those changes in the first place.
The solution for extradition is clear - diplomatic assurances before extradition that capital punishment will not be sought.Improve this
European states in particular put a particular emphasis on capital punishment when determining human rights issues for foreign policy. The UK for example has a policy of promoting and lobbying for the abolition of capital punishment with foreign governments.
This will help generate goodwill for the nation. This could have a whole myriad of benefits - from aid and trade, to being seen as the “good guy” in any international disputes. When using capital punishment the opposite is the case; controversy has been created by the use of UN resources in drugs cases in Vietnam that could lead to executions for drug offences.
 Foreign & Commonwealth Office, ‘HMG Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty 2010-2015’, gov.uk, October 2011, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/35448/death-penalty-strategy-oct-11-15.pdf
 “UN urged to freeze anti-drug aid to Vietnam over death penalty”, Reuters, 12 Feb 2014, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/02/12/vietnam-un-narcotics-idINDEEA1B0FL20140212
It should be for a state to independently determine its criminal justice policy. At any rate, there are some developed states that maintain capital punishment; they are hardly likely to impose diplomatic penalties on other states that do the same.
Capital punishment also doesn’t stop states being seen positively. Despite having even worse human rights violations (if you consider capital punishment as a human rights violation) - the US and US-aligned nations in Europe have very strong and positive relations with Saudi Arabia, despite Saudi Arabia’s gender segregation and lack of religious and political freedom.Improve this
“Benefits” of capital punishment apply universally
The same arguments about capital punishment apply in Africa - deterrence value, potential cost savings, and principles of justice. This could be more acute, with growing issues of international crime, such as drugs, growing in Africa.
Africa has had many issues of conflict and crimes against humanity – these are the kind of crimes that many who are less enthusiastic about capital punishment would still support it for.
 See “This House Supports the Death Penalty” - http://idebate.org/debatabase/debates/capital-punishment/house-supports-death-penalty
 See Cockayne, James, “Africa and the War on Drugs: the West African cocaine trade is not just business as usual”, African Arguments, 2012, http://africanarguments.org/2012/10/19/africa-and-the-war-on-drugs-the-west-african-cocaine-trade-is-not-just-business-as-usual-by-james-cockayne/
Those well trodden arguments lead to an anti death penalty position, not a pro death penalty one. Deterrence cannot be measured, mistakes are made too often and issues of punishment (if punishment, rather than rehabilitation or incapacitation is a legitimate goal of a justice system, which it is not) are different between cultures. Evidence on cost shows it is more expensive than prison in the Global North.
With regards to crimes against humanity, the International Criminal Court - the world’s leading authority on international criminal law - does not use capital punishment. Neither did the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.Improve this
Human rights are a concept that take on different conclusions and priorities when applied in different cultural contexts. Protecting the community as a whole, by removing dangerous offenders from circulation, and by a deterrence effect, capital punishment is a manifestation of a form of “African Values” that place more emphasis on the community over the individual than western legal tradition. Capital Punishment has traditionally used for the most serious crimes such as murder as well as some serious religious offenses which it was feared might bring serious consequences for the entire community.
 Balogun, Oladele Abiodun, ‘A Philosophical Defence of Punishment in Traditional African Legal Culture: The Yoruba Example’, The Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol.3, No.3, September 2009, http://www.jpanafrican.com/docs/vol3no3/3.3APhilosophical.pdf, p.47
The idea of a unified “African values” is as manifestly absurd as unified “European values”, or the “Asian values” used as an excuse by anti-democratic leaders such as Matahir Mohamed and Lee Kuan Kew, (heads of government of Malaysia and Singapore respectively in the 1980s), to reject political freedoms.
Even so, capital punishment can be seen as opposed to the “African value” of ubuntu - a broader concept of treating people with humanity. Religious leaders are often also against, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria described capital punishment as savagery and expressed its desire to join the “civilised world in ending the death penalty”.
 Uduma, Uche, ‘Nigeria: Much Ado About the Return of Death Penalty’, Leadership, 14 July 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201307151576.html?page=2
Capital punishment is a comparatively small issue
Whatever the merits, capital punishment in Africa is a small issue. Capital punishment opponents should focus on China, which uses capital punishment in a secretive manner for all variety of offences and executes far more people than the rest of the world put together.
If Western human rights groups genuinely want to improve human rights in Africa, there are a myriad of issues that affect many more people relating to good governance, political rights and socio-economic rights, rather than just focusing on a small number of individuals, generally convicted of particularly serious criminal offences.
 ‘Death Sentences and Executions 2012’, Amnesty International, April 2013, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT50/001/2013/en/bbfea0d6-39b2-4e5f-a1ad-885a8eb5c607/act500012013en.pdf, p.6
A human rights violation, however many people it happens to, is a human rights violation. Capital punishment is the ultimate human rights violation.Improve this
Particular need in Africa
Capital punishment for particularly dangerous offenders is a practical solution for African nations with low quality prison systems, which, through either deliberate policy or basic underfunding, can have poor conditions, or poor security. In 2013, over a thousand prisoners escaped from a prison near Benghazi in Libya. A similar escape with particularly dangerous offenders would be dangerous - a corpse can’t escape.
 Zway, Suliman Ali, “Amid protests, Inmates escape from Libyan prison”, New York Times, 27 July 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/world/africa/libyans-turn-on-islamists-and-liberals-after-killings.html?_r=0
Practicality is not an excuse - capital punishment is still a human rights violation, whatever the circumstances.
The Libya prison escape, of course, was an unusual case - it was during a civil war.Improve this
Amnesty International, “Death sentences and executions 2012”, Amnesty.org, 2013 http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT50/001/2013/en/bbfea0d6-39b2-4e5f-a1ad-885a8eb5c607/act500012013en.pdf
Amnesty International, “Burundi abolishes the death penalty but bans homosexuality”, Amnesty.org, 2009, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/burundi-abolishes-death-penalty-bans-homosexuality-20090427
Balogun, Oladele Abiodun, ‘A Philosophical Defence of Punishment in Traditional African Legal Culture: The Yoruba Example’, The Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol.3, No.3, September 2009, http://www.jpanafrican.com/docs/vol3no3/3.3APhilosophical.pdf
“Nine executed in Gambia, says Amnesty International”, BBC News, 24 August 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19371622
Cockayne, James, “Africa and the War on Drugs: the West African cocaine trade is not just business as usual”, African Arguments, 2012, http://africanarguments.org/2012/10/19/africa-and-the-war-on-drugs-the-west-african-cocaine-trade-is-not-just-business-as-usual-by-james-cockayne/
Foreign & Commonwealth Office, ‘HMG Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty 2010-2015’, gov.uk, October 2011, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/35448/death-penalty-strategy-oct-11-15.pdf
Hands off Cain, “Benin: Accession to the second optional protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty”, Hands off Cain.info, 2012, http://www.handsoffcain.info/news/index.php?iddocumento=16307938
Mo Ibrahim Foundation, “Ibrahim Index of African Governance”, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2013, http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/iiag/
Soering v United Kingdom - available at http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/ECHR/1989/14.html
Uduma, Uche, ‘Nigeria: Much Ado About the Return of Death Penalty’, Leadership, 14 July 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201307151576.html?page=2
Zway, Suliman Ali, “Amid protests, Inmates escape from Libyan prison”, New York Times, 27 July 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/world/africa/libyans-turn-on-islamists-and-liberals-after-killings.html?_r=0
These resources provide information and primers on capital punishment in general
See “This House supports the death penalty” - http://idebate.org/debatabase/debates/capital-punishment/house-supports-death-penalty
Tolcher, Will and Helling, Alex, “Review of The Death of Punishment by Robert Blecker”, IDEA, 2014, http://idebate.org/news-articles/review-death-punishment-robert-blecker
Death Penalty Information Center, “Facts”, Death Penalty Information Centre, nn, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/5623/4 - various reports and information on the use of capital punishment, mostly in the US, but also in Asia.
Osman, Jamal, “Somali justice: forgiveness, money or execution”, Channel 4 News, http://www.channel4.com/news/somali-justice-forgiveness-money-or-execution - information on capital punishment in Puntland, which uses Somalia’s unique system of civil and criminal justice
Curate this debate
If you are an academic or highly knowledgeable about a particular debate could you give an hour or two a month to curate a debate?
Be a debatabase editor
Idebate needs editors from around the world to check, moderate and create content for debatabase and the site more generally. Editors are vital in making the site run smoothly and ensuring that debates are as informative as possible.